`IT sector overrated'

KOLKATA, MARCH 3. The West Bengal Information Technology Minister, Manab Mukherjee, today said the IT sector was somewhat overrated in terms of its contribution to the economy. His remarks came in the presence of Kiran Karnik, president of the National Association of Software and Service Companies (NASSCOM).

Mr. Mukherjee reiterated the State Government's commitment to help promote need-based use of IT to remove the digital divide and create employment.

Addressing a seminar on `Use of IT in open and distance learning systems of higher education: Mapping in the new millennium,' organised by the Netaji Subhas Open University here, he said that irrespective of the hulla balloo, IT contributed merely six per cent of the GDP and 16 per cent of the country's export revenue.

Emphasising that the IT sector, including the Business Process Outsourcing (BPO) operations, were no match to the manufacturing and other service sectors in terms of job creation, he said that in Bangalore, the IT capital of the country, the sector had created 1.8 lakh jobs while three lakh jobs were lost in the manufacturing sector during last few years. "I have no hesitation to say that the West Bengal Government does not look at IT as a means to create urban employment in plush office buildings. We pursue a completely different policy in this regard compared to other States and are looking forward to use it for the benefit of the commoners," he said.

Finding loopholes in the generally followed practices of digitalisation of government services and making them available on the Net, he said "the minimum infrastructural requirement to take advantage of such services is a PC. Given that the price of a PC is equivalent to 45 months' wages and salaries of an average Indian (in terms of per capita income) as against 13 months' wages in China, the chances of mass use of such practices are remote in the Indian environment. Moreover, 67 per cent of the web content is in English, a language known to only five per cent Indians."

To overcome this problem and make IT really useful to the public at large, "we are looking forward to providing one networked PC in every gram panchayat providing the most sought after information on agriculture, weather, crop prices and so on in the local language (Bengali)."

Referring to the State Government's recent initiative on tele-medicine, Mr. Mukherjee said that the effort proved extremely fruitful in networking the rural public health centres with the centres for excellence in Kolkata. The project was being carried out in technical collaboration with the IIT, Kharagpur. "In fact, we have proved that two-way data, voice and video transmission facilities could be provided."